Saturday, July 02, 2005

(****)The Moral Animal - Why we are the way we are: The new science of evolutionary psychology by Robert Wright

How did I manage to avoid reading this book for over 10 years?! After seeing the outstanding quote about why children may become scared from sleeping alone by Robert Wright in the General Theory of Love (see April archive for that posting), I said that I absolutely must find out who this Wright character is. Well find out I did. Excellent book. Highly recommended. 'The Selfish Gene' by Richard Dawkins (an absolute must read!) brought these theories to the mainstream. This book is 20 years hence, and there are far more details and interesting points now backed up by more science. Time to learn what over over 600 million years of evolution has done to (or for) you. 4 stars!

"It is to [the male's] advantage to pretend to be highly fit whether he is or not, it is to the female's advantage to spot false advertising. So natural selection creates 'skilled salesmanship among males and an equally well-developed sales resistance and discrimination among females.' In other words: males should, in theory, tend to be show-offs."p41 Do we really even have to argue this point? How many women play chicken in cars with their friends watching, or try to jump school buses on a motorcycle, or juggle chainsaws, etc?

"In one experiment, 3/4 of the men approached by an unknown woman on a college campus agreed to have sex with her, whereas none [as in zero] of the women approached by an unknown man were willing." p43

"Lust and other such feelings are natural selection's way of getting us to act as if we wanted lots of offspring... Had natural selection not worked this way [in humans] - had it harnessed human intelligence so that our pursuit of fitness was entirely unconscious and calculated - then life would be very different. Husbands and wives would, for example, spend no time having extramarital affairs with contraception; they either scrap the contraception or scrap the sex." p44

"Can anyone find a single culture in which women with unrestrained sexual appetites aren't viewed as more aberrant than comparably libidinous men? If not, isn't it an astonishing coincidence that all peoples have independently arrived at roughly the same cultural destination, with no genetic encouragement? Or is it the case that this universal cultural element was present half a million or more years ago*, before the species began splitting up? That seems a long time for an essentially arbitrary value to endure, without being extinguished in a single culture." p45 *More recent data suggest that all modern humans may have descended from common ancestors as early as 175,000 to as little at 75,000 years ago.

"In every human culture on the anthropological record, marriage - whether polygamous or monogamous - is the norm, and the family is the atom of social organization. Fathers everywhere feel love for their children, and that's a lot more than you can say for chimp or bonobo [our closest genetic ape relatives] fathers, who don't seem to have much of a clue as to which youngsters are even theirs [let alone love them]. This love leads fathers to help feed and defend their children, and teach them useful things." p57 Please go call and thank your dear old dad.

"Hunting seems to have figured heavily in our evolution. With men securing handy, dense packages of protein, feeding a family was practical. It is probably no coincidence that monogamy is more common among carnivorous mammals than among vegetarians." p58 I guess bringing home the bacon is really in our genes.

"...A pioneering study of mate preferences in 37 cultures around the world... found that in every cuture, females placed more emphasis than males on a potential mate's financial prospects." p60

"A female in a high Male Paternal Investment [MPI] species may seek signs of generosity, trustworthiness, and, especially, an enduring commitment to her in particular. It is a truism that flowers and other tokens of affection are more prized by women than men." p61 Here's a good experiment you can try at home, next time instead of giving your wife/girlfriend some flowers... try giving her a copy of this book and see if that works as well.

"Males in high-MPI species are, paradoxically, capable of greater treachery than males in a low MPI species. Even if long-term investment [in their own offspring] is their main aim, seduction and abandonment can make genetic sense, provided it doesn't take too much in time and other resources, from the offspring in which the male does invest. The bastard youngsters may thrive even without paternal investment; they may, for that matter, attract investment from some poor sap who is under the impression that they're his [without that impression the incidence of child abuse tends to be much, much higher]... So in theory, males should be ever alert for opportunistic sex." p61 Hence the college experimental results from above has its solution rooted in fatherly love of all things.

"The lifestyle of the modern bachelor - seducing and abandoning women year after year is not a distinct, evolved sexual strategy. It is just what happens when you take the male mind, with its preference for varied sex partners, and put it in a big city replete with contraceptive technology." p63 Kind of explains LA.

"High MPI makes sexual selection work in two directions at once. Not only have males evolved to compete for scarce female eggs; females have evolved to compete for scarce male investment." p63

"A study in which both men and women were asked about the minimal level of intelligence they would accept in person they were 'dating'. The average response, for both male and female was:[surprise!] average intelligence. They were also asked how smart a person would have to be before they consent to sex. The women said: Oh in that case, markedly above average. Then men said: Oh, markedly below average." p64 If that's the case, how come the nerds aren't all getting laid?

"The last thing we would expect to find is that plainly postmenopausal woman is sexually attractive to the average man. Even before menopause, age matters, especially in a long-term mate; the younger the woman, the more children she can bear. In every one of the 37 cultures studied, males preferred younger mates (and females preferred older mates)." p65

"The generic beautiful woman [assembled from studies of different cultures] has large eyes and a small nose. Since her eyes will look smaller and her nose larger as she ages, these components of beauty are marks of youth, and thus fertility. Woman can afford to be more open-minded about looks; an oldish man is probably fertile." p65

"Male jealousy should focus on sexual infidelity, and males should be quite unforgiving of it; a female, though she'll hardly applaud a partner's extracurricular activities, since they consume time and resources, should be more concerned with emotional infidelity." p66 Many more marriages recover if the male cheats, rather than the other way around. I believe this evidence is cited in the John Gottman marriage studies.

"Our fondness for sweetness was designed for an environment in which fruit existed but candy didn't... people try to control their cravings and sometimes they succeed. But their methods are usually roundabout, and few find them easy; and the basic sense that sweetness feels good is unalterable (except when paring a sweet taste with an electric shock). Similarly, the basic impulse toward jealousy is very hard to erase. Still, people can muster some control over the impulse, and over some forms of expression, such as violence, if given a sufficiently powerful reason. Prison, for example." p67 Tell that to Ronald Goldman and Nicole, the former Mrs. Simpson.

"Human females don't advertise their ovulation [unlike many other mammals]. One theory about this 'cryptic ovulation' sees it as an adaptation designed to expand the period during which they can extract resources. Men may lavish gifts on them well before or past ovulation and receive sex in return, blissfully oblivious to the fruitlessness of their conquest... Another reason women might copulate with more than one man is to leave several men under the impression that they might be the father."p68

"A gene that says 'Be nice to children if you've had a fair amount of sex with their mothers [before they have arrived on the scene] will do better than a gene that says 'steal food from children even if you were having regular sex with their mothers months before birth."p69

"A study found that women who cheat on their mates are more likely to do so around ovulation. This suggests that often the secret lover's genes are indeed what they're after." p70 See notes section below for more info.

"Blood tests show that in some urban areas more than 25% of the children may be sired by someone other than the father of record." p70 That's a lot of busy milkmen and postmen!

"Indeed, if female infidelity weren't a long-standing part of life this species, why would distinctly maniacal male jealousy have evolved?" p70

"When females commonly breed with many different males, male genes can profit by producing lots of semen for their transportation... A species testicles are thus a record of its females' sexual adventures over the ages. In our species, relative testes weight falls between that of the [extremely promiscuous] chimpanzee and the [alpha male dominated serial monogamous] gorilla, suggesting that women, while not nearly as wild as chimpanzee females, are by nature somewhat adventurous." p71

"If you find a woman who appears genetically suitable for investment, start spending lots of time with her. If she seems quite taken by you, and yet remains sexually aloof, stick with her. If, on the other hand, she seems eager for sex right away, then by all means oblige her. But if the sex does come that easily, you might want to shift from investment mode into exploitation mode. Her eagerness could mean she'll always be an easy seduction - not a desirable quality in a wife... Just to add a trifle more ruthlessness to this strategy: the male may actually encourage the early sex for which he will ultimately punish the woman. What better way to check for self-restraint... and if if it proves lacking, what faster way to get the wild oats sown?" p73 Ah, the fun of dating.

"Maybe adolescent girls who get early social feedback affirming their beauty make the most of it, becoming sexually reserved and thus encouraging long-term investment by high-status males... Less attractive women, with less chance to hit the jackpot via sexual reserve, become more promiscuous, extracting small chunks of resources from a series of males... In the ancestral environment this wouldn't have doomed her chances of finding a husband. In the hunter gatherer society almost every fertile woman can find a husband, even if he's far from ideal or she has to share him." p83 Tell your little girl she's beautiful every day. It's better than wielding a shotgun later.

"Women report putting more emphasis on a sex partner's looks when they don't expect the relationship to last; they are apparently willing, unconsciously, to trade off parental investment for good genes... And those who insist on scientific evidence of the obvious: good looking men do have more sex partners than the average man." p85 Why the Brad Pitt's of the world exist.

"A huge majority - 980 of the 1,154 [85%] past or present societies for which anthropologists have data - have permitted a man to have more than one wife... which includes most hunter gatherer societies that are the closest thing we have to a living example of the context of human evolution." p90 So perhaps the Mormons are on to something after all. By this statement, can we also then consider them a primitive hunter-gatherer society as well?

"The general principle is that economic equality among men tends to short circuit polygyny. More than half of the known monogamous societies have been classifed as economically 'nonstratified'. What really demand explanation are the six dozen societies in the history of the world, including our modern industrial nations, that have been monogamous yet economically stratified. These are true freaks of nature." p94

"Most men are probably better off in a monogamous system and most women worse off. This is an important point, and warrants an illustrative detour... please consider a crude and offensive but useful model..." [you'll have read pages 96-97 I'm afraid]

"As political power became distributed more evenly, the hoarding of women by upper-class men simply became untenable. Few things are more anxiety producing for an elite governing class than gobs of sex-starved and childless men with at least a modicum of political power." p98 Are they talking about the young Republicans again?

"One study has found that men shown pictures of Playboy models later describe themselves as less in love with their wives than do men shown other images. Women shown pictures from Playgirl felt no such attitude adjustment." p129 This experiment is totally wrong! Show those same women beer commericials and then ask them if they love their husband as much.

"Should a gene appear that happens to make its vehicle [your body] behave in ways that help the survival or reproductive prospects of other vehicles likely to contain a copy of that gene, then the gene may thrive, even if prospects for its vehicle are lowered in the process. This is kin selection." p158

"Our paleolithic ancestors hadn't been running around calculating their degree of relatedness to each other... [so] genes for heroism would spread only in rather small populations where most children were fairly near relatives of the man who risked his life." p159

"Evolution can only work with the raw materials that happen to be lying around; if love of certain kinds of children - siblings - hadn't been part of males' minds several million years ago, the path to loving their own children might have been too torturous." p161

"How warm and generous we feel toward kin depends theoretically, both on our age and on the kin's age. There should be continuous change, throughout a child's life, in how dear that life seems to parents... A parent should be more heartbroken by the death of an adolescent than by the death of an infant... A study asking adults to imagine the death of children of various ages and estimate which deaths would create the greatest sense of loss in a parent. The results show grief growing until just before adolescence and then beginning to drop. When this curve was compared with changes in reproductive potential over the life cycle the correlation was nearly perfect in fact..." p175

"The Fuegians [think Tierra del Fuego in Chile] seemed to have a habit of eating old women when food got scarce. When asked [by Charles Darwin] why they didn't eat their dogs instead, [a Fuegian boy] replied 'Dog catch otter - woman good for nothing - man very hungry."p181 Aren't you glad we have retirement homes? Anyone remember soylent green?

"If you can [somehow without punishment] spend your life exploiting people, by all means do; the value of cooperation pales by comparison. Futher if you can't find people to exploit, cooperation still may not [always] be the best strategy, [because] if you're surrounded by people who are always trying to exploit you, then reciprocal exploitation is the way to cut your losses." p195

"The tendency to cut off largesse for mean australopithecines could be realized via anger and dislike. And the tendency to be nice toward erstwhile meanies who have mended their ways would come from a sense of forgiveness - an eraser of counterproductive hostility. All of these feelings are found in all human cultures." p198

"Altruism would have flowed largely from older to younger relatives. That imbalance would itself have been a reliable cue for youngsters to use in steering altruism toward relatives - at least, it probably would have been more reliable than other simple cues... A gene that repaid kindness with kindness [and harshness with harshness] could have thus spread through the extended family, and, by interbreeding, to other families, where it would thrive on the same logic. At some point the TIT for TAT strategy would be widespread enough to keep flourishing even without the aid of kin selection... Long before our ancestors were reciprocal altruists, they were capable of familial affection and generosity, of trust (in kin) and of guilt (a reminder not to mistreat kin). These and other elements were ready to be wired together in a new way." p201 Hence 'Do unto others...', and 'An eye for an eye'.

"Why would genes counsel us to take even slight risk of death for something as intangible as 'honor'? Small inequities repeated many times [think of the bullies stealing your lunch money every day] over a lifetime may exact a heavy toll, thus justifying a [single, but very risky] show of aggression when the cheating tendency is discovered. " Why boys sometime feel that they have no choice but to fight, because by not fighting you send a signal that it's OK to pick on me without consequences. Calling for help may fix the immediate situation, but it also reinforces the fact that the individual on his own can't handle the threat, meaning that he is vulnerable if help is not ready at hand. All boys learn these lessons the hard way. I sure did.

"When we pass a homeless person, we may feel uncomfortable about failing to help. But what really gets the conscience twinging is making eye contact and still failing to help... Why should we care about the opinion of someone we'll never encounter again: perhaps in our ancestral environment just about everyone encountered was someone we might well encounter again." p206 Hey is that Ogg the caveman sitting in the median? Give him some mammoth meat.

"In a species with language, one effective and almost effortless way to reward nice people and punish mean ones is to affect their reputations accordingly. This may help to explain the evolution of the 'grievance' - not just the sense of having been wronged, but the urge to publicly articulate it." p207

"Hence hypocrisy seems to flow from two natural forces: the tendency toward grievance - to publicize the sins of others - and the tendency to obscure our own sins." p209

"Pecking orders are yet another case where the 'thinking' has been done by natural selection... The organism must [simply] be able to tell its neighbors apart, and to feel a healthy fear of the one that have brutalized it, but it need not grasp the logic behind the fear... Once such genes pervade the population, hierarchy is part of the social architecture." p240

"The evolutionary pressure behind male competition for sex seems to have been stronger than the pressure behind female competition for investment. The reason is that potential differences in fitness are so much greater among males than among females. The Guinness Book of World Records vividly makes the point. The most prolific human parent in history is credited with 888 children - about 860 more than any woman could dream [more like nightmare!] of having. His name and title were, Moulay Ismail the Bloodthirsty of Morocco. It's a little chilling to think that the genes of a man nickname 'Bloodthirsty' found their way into nearly 1000 offspring." p247

"Both chimp and human hierarchies are subtler than chicken pecking orders. Which person or chimp defers to which may change from day to day - not just because the hierarchies get reshuffled but because dominance can depend on context; which primate gets its way can depend on which other primates are around. The reason why is that chimps and humans have something that chickens don't: reciprocal altruism... Indeed, after looking closely at chimp and human society, one might suspect that, from natural selection's point of view, status assistance is the main purpose of friendship." p249

"Men seem to loath to concede the superority of another human being, even in such trivial realms as municipal geography. The reason perhaps is that during human evolution males who too readily sought reconciliation after a fight, or otherwise needlessly submitted to others, saw their status drop, and with it their inclusive fitness [to reproduce]." p25 Of course, GPS navigation has made this example obsolete.

"Humans, it seems, tend to compare themselves to those very near them in the status hierarchy. [p256]... People in all cultures, whether they fully realize it or not, want to wow their neighbors, to rise in local esteem." [p265]

"When a chimp responds to a threat, its hair stands on end, making it seem larger than life. Vestiges of this illusion can be seen people whose hair stand on end when they're frightened." p266

Keep lying to yourself, and eventually it becomes true. "[Studies have shown] how the details of a story, even if false, embed themselves in the original memory with repetition." p267 More self deception "Indeed, even in the laboratory, people not only tend to attribute success to skill and failure to circumstance; they tend to reverse the pattern when evaluating others. Luck is the thing that makes you fail and other people succeed." p268

Depression has a purpose. "People of all statuses may get lethargic and glum when prospect look dim, and then grow optimistic and energetic when opportunities arise. It's as if they had been resting up for a big match. And if no opportunities arise, and lethargy passes into mild depression, this mood may goad them into a fruitful shift of course - changing careers, jettisoning ungrateful friends, abandoning a mate, etc." p271

"In various experiments [the Stanford Prison Experiment is one of the most famous], subjects have been told to behave cruelly toward someone... Afterwards, the subjects tended derogate their victim, as if to convince themselves that he deserved his mistreatment... But when subjects [were told that their victims] would get to retaliate, they tended not to derogate. It is as if the mind were programmed with a simple rule: so long as accounts are settled, no special rationalization is in order... but if you cheat or abuse another person who doesn't cheat or abuse you, you should concoct reasons why he deserved it." p273 So that is how Hitler could sleep at night.

"From the genes point of view, monitoring the two sides of the record with equal diligence would be foolish. If you end up getting slightly more than you give, so much the better. But if you give more than you get by even the smallest increment, that's an increment of loss. That people keep closer track of what they're owed than what they owe is hardly a news flash." p275

"Faced with 3 questions about remembering and forgetting - 1) why we forget facts inconsistent with our theories; 2) Why we remember grievances; 3) why we remember humiliations. Forgetting inconvenient facts makes it easier to argue with force and conviction... Remembering grievances may bolster our haggling, making us remind people of reparations we're owed; also a well preserved grievance may ensure punishment of our exploiters. As for the memory of humiliations, their uncomfortable persistance dissaudes us from repeating behaviors that can lower social status; and if humilations are of sufficient magnitude, their memory may adaptively lower self-esteem." p320

Given what we have learned about ourselves we should "generally discount moral indignation by 50% or so, mindful of its built in bias, and to be similarly suspicious of moral indifference to suffering. We should be especially viligant in certain situations. We seem prone to grow indigant about the behavior of distinct groups of people [say Muslims] or countries [say Iraq] whose interests conflict with a distinct group to which we belong. We also tend to be inconsiderate of low status people and exceedingly tolerant of high status people. " p343

"We are designed to feel that the next great goal will bring bliss, and the bliss is designed to evaporate shortly after we get there. Natural selection has a malicious sense of humor; it leads us along with series of promises and then keeps saying 'Just kidding.'.. Remarkably we go our lives without ever really catching on." p369

Frequently Asked Questions (you gotta love this Robert Wright character!)
I won't type his answers so if you're interested this is your call to action to read the book [or at least the appendix] yourself.
1. What about Homosexuals [do gay genes exist]?
2. Why are siblings so different from one another?
3. Why do people choose to have few or no kids?
4. Why do people commit suicide?
5. Why do people kill their own children?
6. Why do soldiers die their country?

BONUS: My notes on the author's notes
"In some human societies, the maternal uncle plays a larger role in child-rearing. This tends to occur when it is quite uncertain that the average husband is in fact the father of his wife's children. In such a context, the theory of kin selection suggests that a man might be better off investing in his sister's children [who are guaranteed to have 25% of his genes] than in his wife's [whose children may have none of his genes]. " p397

Studies have found " That 'double mating' - 2 different sex partners within a 5 day period - are more common around ovulation. This is [more] evidence for a theory of 'sperm competition': maybe the purpose of this infidelity is to let the sperm of various men fight mano-a-mano within the uterus." p 399

"The study [by John Gottman of U of Wash look up this books if you're interesting marital harmony or disharmony] actually found 2 equally strong predictors of divorce: statements by the husband indicating disappointment with the marriage, and his widthdrawl during discussion of the marriage... The husband' sentiments were markedly stronger predictors of divorce than the wife's." Ladies beware, if he says he wants a divorce he'll probably mean it.

"The [universal] abhorrence of [incest] appears to depend on an innate mechanism for learning who close relatives are. The mechanism is most conspicuous when it misfires; children reared sibling-like with unrelated children - as on an Israeli kibbutz - seem disinclined toward romance even though there's no cultural sanction against it. " p 403 Adoptive siblings are also disinclined, but there are also cultural sanctions.

"Half of all American couples who marry will divorce, and the chances of divorce are significantly higher than this if no children are born." p405

"Since men tend to marry younger women, this means of surplus of males in the marriage market [assume the number of women and men between ages 20-30 are equal, but also assume that men aged 31-35 are also competeing for those same women rather marrying women their own age]. Men might respond to the mate shortage by showing a greater commitment to monogamy and less wanderlust, and women sensing their heightened market value, might show a lower tolerance for low-commitment sex." p406

"In some situations parents might get more bang for their buck by investing heavily in a relatively disadvantaged child [of theirs] - if, for example, one child is assured of reproductive success, and there is fairly clear cieling on that success, while another child is less equipped for success but could become better equipped with modest investment." p407

"Presumably evolutionary psychologists will someday show that amorphous thing we call the 'conscience' to actually consist of various adaptations designed for various functions." p 412 And no one will believe them.

Being 'street wise' is a learned behavior. "There is evidence that people who live in cities or at least spent their adolescence in cities, take an especially 'Machiavellian' approach to social interactions." p412

Given the gravity of the topics in this excellently written book, please don't argue with my posting until you have read this controversial book yourself.


PKD said...

Hell is full of musical amateurs: music is the brandy of the damned.

Anonymous said...

where can i get more info?

hcg said...

Took me time to read all the comments, but I really love the article. It proved to be very helpful to me and I am sure to all the commenters here! It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also engaged! I’m sure you had joy writing this article.